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Somali POW in Ukraine: "I'd be a king in Somalia with this money"

Friday April 12, 2024

Adil Muhammad's journey from Moscow factory worker earning $140 a month to the front lines

Foreign soldiers taken prisoner of war (POW) after being captured by Ukraine as combatants in the Russian armed forces attend a press conference organized by Ukrainian officials in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15, 2024. At a press conference organized by Ukrainian officials, eight POWs from Cuba, Nepal, Sierra Leone, and Somalia claimed they were lured with promises of high pay, non-frontline roles, or were simply duped. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images))

Mogadishu (HOL) - Adil Muhammad, a Somali national who found himself ensnared in the war in Ukraine while serving under Russian command, recounted his journey from a factory worker in Moscow to a prisoner of war (POW). His experience sheds light on the increasing reliance on foreign recruits on both sides of the conflict to bolster their ranks amid escalating casualties and growing international scrutiny.

Adil's story first came to international prominence following his capture in mid-January.

According to Ukrainian media, Muhammad arrived in Moscow on a tourist visa in early 2024 and sought a better life away from Somalia's economic constraints. His transition from a $140-a-month job in a clothing factory to the Russian military was sparked by a deceptive advertisement promising a lucrative $2,000 monthly salary—over fourteen times what he earned in the factory. Muhammad described the promised sum as princely, one that would elevate his status significantly back home in Somalia.

However, the reality of his military engagement was starkly different. Deployed to Ukraine's front lines just days after enlisting, Muhammad's dreams quickly turned into a nightmare. Captured near Marinka in Donetsk Oblast, he was thrust into the international spotlight during a press conference. He voiced his disillusionment, stating, "If I returned to Somalia with the money I made serving, I would be a king. I swear to God. The only problem is that the Russians put us in the first line."

Detained Somali national, Mohamed Adil, seen zip-tied and wearing Russian-issued winter military fatigues, following his surrender to Ukrainian forces near Donetsk. Credit: OBOZREVATEL

This troubling trend of recruiting foreign nationals under false pretenses has been noted by Ukraine's governmental agency responsible for POWs, which reported a noticeable increase in the number of foreign fighters in Russian ranks. With foreign nationals from low-income countries particularly targeted, the Russian military promises high salaries, citizenship, and social benefits, according to a decree issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The fate of these foreign POWs is uncertain, often complicated by their home countries' reluctance or inability to negotiate their return. Many, like Muhammad, face the grim prospect of being charged as mercenaries, a status that strips them of the protections afforded by international conventions on prisoners of war.


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